tv [untitled] March 2, 2013 8:00am-8:30am PST
having to think about the elements unconsciously. >> i teach a lot of workshops and a lot of people come to play our master classes, they come with their own performance, arrangement. they are looking for feedback. one of the things that i always say, because, as a musician, we try to get everything at once. all of the elements. we tried to simultaneously get the rhythm, melody, the subtleties, dynamics, accent, all those things that make music interesting. but a lot of times, it is good practice to tear them apart. solo guitar playing, for example, polyphonic music, you have a melody and a baseline, maybe an accompaniment, 3rd voice or harmonic accompaniment.
i always suggest people to tear them apart, work on the melody, just work on the base, rhythm, accompaniment. that provides an important process to understanding how these elements have to happen simultaneously. >> when you are writing, as a fan of yours, for decades now -- i think your first record came out in the 1970's. >> 1978. >> that is right. as a fan, one of the things that struck me is you did not sound like anyone else i had heard, and you still do not. when i listen to any other guitarist,, composer, you can hear their influence, who they took this idea or technique from.
your music just sounds fresh and novel. i wonder if you might be willing to disclose to us some of your influences and how they gave rise to your compositional playing style, and maybe demonstrate them. >> i like to joke, i did not learn how to play anything else really well, so i had to come up with my own. it is true, i found this out later when i was teaching. can you show me that solo to that song? do you know how it goes? i am useless at that. i am not very good at cataloging other people's music. i certainly had my influence is growing up. i started playing the guitar when i was 12th. i was a big fan of the pope, blue, british isles scene,
mississippi john hurt me, sonny terry brown mcgee, i played some blues harmonica. >> did you learn that open tuning style, slide style? >> i have not picked up a slide in a long time, so i do not want to embarrass myself, but yes. it was a lot of folk music, blues and early on. i fell in love with the sound of the steel string guitar. there are a lot of idiomatic thing that it does well. i studied classic guitar a bit, but the steel string, for example, we do something called a hammer on and pull off, which is -- >> you get three note for the price of one. >> you plug the string but you
get four notes. i always think of that town at the the prototypical steel string guitar sound. british isles, a caltech music. i learned all the paul simon songs. as i got older -- >> he is a hell of a guitarist. people do not realize. he is not flashy, but if you try to learn his tunes, they are really hard. >> he is a brilliant guitar player. i eventually got interested in jazz, world music, everything. maybe that is one of the reasons. i enjoyed so many kinds of music, i did not have a preference. i did not want to be anything in particular. i just wanted to play guitar and get that sound that i was hearing in my head. >> is there a particular song of
yours that you can trace back to and influence, sound that you were trying to get that you heard somebody else use and you wanted to use it? >> i will play you a few bars from a piece that i wrote in the 1970's, very much influenced by the british isles style. this one is called "inverness." ♪ >> i am cutting it short, but, to me, that is the quintessential british isles style. >> although, in your hand, it is more harmonically complex.
>> it could be. >> one of the things i was trying to do -- i became a big fan of keith jarrett when i was young. i thought, wow, if i can do something like that with a guitar -- and i remember, i was a student at uc-berkeley, considering going to graduate school in economic geography and working as an intern coming here at the san francisco planning department. i was also a record in my first album. i wrote this piece called " turning, turning back." it began the recording but it also began a new direction for me. they say every musician that starts recording for writing, arranging music, they have to find their own voice. i think i may be found my own voice in that one.
[applause] >> that is the main theme. >> often, when i listen to guitar players, because i'm a guitarist myself, i'm trying to figure out what they are doing and how they do it. i cannot do that when i listen to you. the music for " washes over me. for me, it is so immediately engaging and hypnotize him. to be fair, the other part of it is, in 1000 years, i could never do that. there is a technical component to would you do, and i am reminded, one of your albums was reviewed by "coo guitar plar magazine." i am prepared praising he said something to the effect of,
listening to alex thrusts fellow pickers to the brink of decision. do i give up everything else in my life and practice like a madman or throw my guitar down the chasm? >> that became a staple in my press packed with back then. today, to be honest, there are a lot of talented young players out there. the whole scene has developed so much, the technique has really moved forward a lot. >> and each generation can learn from the previous. leo cocky learn from fahey. each new generation has these new musicians to slow down and learn a note by note. on the technical side, when you write, maybe do not want to give away your secrets, but are you writing in real time, at that tempo, or do you write slowly
and learn to play faster? >> i used to do everything intuitively, did not write music, i would not think about what i was doing. i would fiddle around -- i use a lot of alternate tooting. i would emerge a few hours later and say, this is what i have got. it was a cathartic experience for me. over the years, i have become a little more analytical. today, my approach is a balance, and intuitive process where you allow yourself to empty your mind a little bit and let stuff come in so that you can experience what is going on around you in a way and translate that into musical experience. >> it is interesting you talk about emptying your mind. there was a brain imaging study published where my colleague, charles lim, a narrow scientist,
put some composers in an mri machine. if any of you have had an mri to see if there was a broken bone or cancer detection, we have a special version called functional mri, wary can track the flow of blood in your brain. we put people in the scanner and we had people mentally practice their tennis serve, catch a late meth problems, or think or listen about music. you can see which regions of the brain are active by following the blood. what charles found is by people improvising or composing, you would expect for something that is that complicated, would require so mineral resources, you would expect a primary finding in his would be lots of activation in particular areas of the brain. paradoxically what he found was
deactivation in the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that is the editor, tell you that is not good enough, inhibiting you from blurting things out. the great improvisers had turned that part of their brain off. from your intuitions as a composer, science is a step behind art, but we were able to find that. just from a player's standpoint, as you develop your skills over time, maybe studied in school, self-pop, but you build up certain skills. when it comes time to improvise or sit down and start to work out something musical, sometimes you have to forget all that stuff. push it out of your mind. it is a handy tool to be able to bring back and say, what am i doing here? i am and 3/4 time, 12 measures
of this, and then it is going to go to a bridge or a second measure or something. >> to clarify one point you were talking about, using alternate to earnings -- for those who got not know, there is a standard way of turning the guitar. there are people like alex and david crosby, and joni mitchell, who tune differently to spur creativity or just to play around. there is a great sense of play in that. most of your pieces are in non- standard to make. among those, there are even some standard ones and you do not use those. >> you bring up an interesting point. a lot of times, musicians use these alternate to earnings as a way to escape what we know.
sometimes we get trapped. i know that is a c sharp minor court, that is a b flat. where would i go from there? instead of listening to the experience, and the image, the mood, feeling of what you're trying to convey. sometimes, they bump up against each other. when you are doing a good job as a composer, improviser, you are sticking with the image, not bring about what the court is. >> one of the things that i get from your music is a strong sense of place and imagery. when i listen to your music and close my eyes, i see pictures of different things. a lot of people that i have talked to that have heard your music experienced the same thing. what has been said about japanese ink artists is their
entire emotional state is contained in the brush stroke. if you know how to read it, you know a lot about the artist. i wonder if that is something you are consciously putting into the music, putting in imagery, or something the music gives to you, and then you are discovering for yourself at the same time? >> personally, a little bit of both. a lot of times you come up with something and you say, that reminds me of -- something. it reminded of some place i was, the desert. sometimes it works the other way. you take a walk and your mind has this image. you start to translate that, as a visual image, or tactile experience, into something musical. how that happens is difficult to
explain, but it certainly happens. >> it is mysterious, and to tie it back to science, i had a graduate student at uc-berkeley who came to work with me at mcgill. for his doctoral dissertation, he wanted to study the extent to which we can understand what musicians are doing by looking at them, observing their movement. it is worth pointing out that there cannot be any music without movement, no sound without movement. sound is the molecules in the air vibrating in particular ways. there is no sound in a vacuum because there are no molecules to vibrate. all sound, including music, has to begin with some motion, movement. in the case of movement, -- music, it is the body moving, somebody pressing a key, striking, blowing, plucking.
even singing, there is movement of air through the vocal cords. what bradley did is he took performances of musicians, in this case, a clarinetist playing stravinsky, and we had people come into the laboratory and we turn off the sound. as they listened, they had to write what they heard going on emotional and structurally. a different group of people came in and they had the sound on and the video off. a third group had both. it turned out the group that only saw the performance and were unfamiliar with the ps new a great deal about the emotional structure, when the emotional peaks were, they knew a great deal about the tension in the peace, and i knew a great deal about where the phrases began, just by looking. but when you saw and heard, the
amount of information conveyed was more than the sum of its parts. we corroborated this later with elektra physiological measurements, skin response, the amount you sweat while listening or viewing, correlated with the musical content of the peace. -- piece. >> maybe i should pay more attention to my sweating. >> to the extent that your body movements are evocative of time and place, feelings, they are naturally becoming part of the musical stream, it would seem. >> right. interesting. you and i were speaking the other day, talking about the word he motion, which includes the word motion. -- emotion, which includes the word motion. dance music literally makes people get up and move.
a lot of time, music is more contemplative, moves people in different ways. the matter with your physical move it or not, something is moving. maybe you can explain what is going on in the brain, going through that emotional experience, listening or playing music. >> on the emotional side, there are a couple of clues. cognitive neuroscience is in its industry here try to sort of music. -- in fancy here trying to sort out music. there is a well-known pleasure center in the brain. this is the same center, when you hook an electrode up to it, rats will keep pressing a button to stimulate it. they will give up food and sex to keep pressing stimulation to this area. it is the same error that is activated when compulsive gamblers are winning a bet or
when drug addicts get their drug of choice. it modulates the brain's levels of dopamine my colleagues from stanford and i show that when you listen to music to like, found pleasurable, that eric is activated and it is modulating dopamine. a student of mine showed, she was able to get her hand on a radioactive tag for dopamine, so that we could fall in people's brains. dopamine was increased when people listen to pleasurable music. dopamine is involved, as many of the brands chemicals are, in many things, but it is also the pleasure hormone, the feel-good hormone. i am not saying it feels like winning a bet or taking a drug or having sex, but invoked the same system. another thing, when people listen to music together,
oxytocin is released, a chemical associated with bonding and trust. is what mother's release when they are nursing their infants. prolactin is another hormone that women excrete. we also believe that prolactin is also excluded when people listen to music. chemically, that seems to be what is going on. you were also talking about dance and music. music activates the cerebellum, which is responsible for your ability to move, your limbs, parts of your body, to maintain a steady gait. it is almost automatic, when music comes in at a student -- certain polls, neurons are going to fire in synchronization with that polls. even kids move to music. one of your more recent records,
you took some children's folk tunes and you rearranged them. we were talking about kids moving. do you have any of those candy? -- handy? >> yeah. i will play a little bit of an old appalachian folk song. what i tried to do is -- and the melody is there, song is there, but i tried to bring the rhythm into a more contemporary context. this has more of an r&b, hip-hop feeling to it. ♪
about. in a way, they have it easy because there are dangers to tell the story. would you say that is what you're trying to do with your music, trying to tell a story? >> i think so. i do not always consciously have an image. often i do. sometimes it is a catalyst for starting, i will fiddle around with an idea and the image starts to rise in my mind as i work with it. for example, i played a little bit of a piece from my collection, the water garden, started in 1998, had sketched out a few ideas. it was wintertime, january. we had just moved up to mendocino county, and it was raining for two, three weeks,
every day, constantly. it took me about two or three weeks to realize i was sort of an absorbing the sensation of water into everything i was doing. oh, i get it. it should be a collection on the theme of water. then i turn it around and it became a more conscious effort to make the rest of the music i was writing sound like it have some element of water, whether it was fast, slow, stillwater. the title of that collection is a slow peace. i always like to think that it feels like the surface of water. more importantly than that, if the composer, improviser, is connected with an image or story, no matter what that story is, the and the listener who hears it is going to feel that.
a man that did the same thing. i may be thinking water and somebody else may be thinking garbage. or somebody might be thinking about a friend of theirs. but still, they feel that connection. something is going on there that is creating an emotional, or maybe a visual image that people are picking up on. i am not quite sure how that ties in. >> it is an interesting point. the performance, of course, has a lot to do with it. one can take a piece by chopin and play it on the piano in a rigid fashion, that is the way that it was written, but without the proper articulation, the peace can sound somewhat flat.
it is the performance that brings out the new ones. without putting you on the spot, i wonder if you could play two ways, robotic without proper articulation, phrasing, and then play it the way you would normally in a concert, so we can hear the difference became a performer brings in what the composer brings. >> i will try. [laughter] >> this is a piece from the water garden. i will try to play it. >> we did not work this out ahead of time. ♪ >> ok, now i'm going to try to play with more articulation and movement.
>> i think so. i teach a lot of workshops, master classes. one thing i am always encouraging students, guitar players to do is to keep the music movement, so that it does not become static. if you have a note you are sustaining for a long time, you want to have something happening. likewise, when you have notes in juxtaposition to one another, there is a dynamic interplay in between the notes, just as there are between musicians. as a solo player, it is important to accent certain notes and contrast the dynamics with others. it is like the concept of quinellas and in painting, a little dots, big shots. >> you can play a note by picking it,